Pakistan forces kill three dozen militants at Afghan border

Pakistani security forces backed by helicopter gunships struck a militant hide-out Wednesday in a tribal region near the Afghan border, killing about three dozen fighters, including a Chechen commander linked to al-Qaida, an army official said.

One civilian and a soldier were also reported dead.

The raid came just days before a visit by U.S. President George W. Bush to Pakistan during which the fight against al-Qaida and the Taliban will be on the agenda.

The militants had entered Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal region after they carried out an attack inside Afghanistan, said Syed Zaheerul Islam, the top government administrator of the region.

Three helicopter gunships attacked their mountain hide-out in the early morning near Saidgi, a village about 15 kilometers (nine miles) west of Miran Shah, army spokesman Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan said.

The assault killed about three dozen militants, said another army official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to media.

The dead included the Chechen commander, identified only by his code name, Imam, the army official said. He died when a helicopter fired on the vehicle he was fleeing in, he said.

"This Chechen commander Imam was behind most of the attacks against Pakistani security forces along the Pakistan-Afghan border," said the official. "He was an important man for al-Qaida linked militants, and he died with his three bodyguards."

Most of the dead militants were from Central Asian states and Arab countries.

Another security official said that one soldier was killed and about a dozen were injured. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he's not authorized to speak to the media.

One of the helicopters hit a bus with gunfire during the raid, killing a female passenger, said the injured driver, Sabbir Khan, from a hospital bed. The driver said a 20-year-old student on the bus was also injured, reports the AP.

I.L.

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